The investing landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years. We've seen new technology drop commissions and expenses substantially (to $0 for most), new tools helping investors, and a whole lot of competition to stay at the top of the pack.
So, with all these changes, who do you (the readers) think is the best online stock broker in 2021? If you're not already part of our Facebook group, join here.
We break down the top five online stock brokers chosen by readers, along with some notable mentions, especially for certain use cases. We also highlight any bonus offers these companies currently have. If you're not using a top online stock broker yet, now is the time to make the switch!
Note: The investing offers that appear on this site are from companies from which The College Investor receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). The College Investor does not include all investing companies or all investing offers available in the marketplace.
Vanguard is the clear winner this year, and it makes sense for a variety of reasons. Vanguard is consistently the low price index fund leader - and when you invest directly with Vanguard, you can potentially avoid commissions and fees on your mutual fund purchases.
Furthermore, Vanguard offers the full range of account types, from IRAs to Solo 401k's, to 529 plans and HSAs.
The big drawback to Vanguard (if it even matters to you) is that it can be expensive to invest outside of Vanguard funds if you want to. Also, if you dive into the details on some of their products (like their Solo 401k), it's not always the most robust available. They also don't have the cleanest investing app.
Vanguard Bonus Offers: Vanguard doesn't run any bonus offers... maybe they're just too good for that they don't need to entice you?
Fidelity is always a top pick when it comes to choosing a full service brokerage. They have a large amount of commission-free funds, low expenses, and a full range of account types to choose from. Even if you don't invest with a commission free fund, they are $0 for commissions for stocks, ETFs, and options trades.
Furthermore, many people are familiar with Fidelity because (along with Vanguard) they are one of the largest 401k plan administrators. That's why we name Fidelity our Best Online Broker for Retirement.
Plus, unlike Vanguard, Fidelity has offices nationwide. While almost everything can be done online, being able to easily go to an office can be helpful every now and then.
Fidelity Bonus Offers: After going commission-free, Fidelity dropped their bonus offers.
Robinhood has always been a controversial online broker. However, our readers rated it very highly, and it does have one huge positive - it's free.
Robinhood offers truly commission free trading. Like $0. Nada. Nothing.
Also, Robinhood just announced they are going to start supporting cryptocurrency trading on their platform.
However, it does come with some drawbacks. The biggest is that they don't support many popular account types - specifically IRAs, but also joint accounts, trusts, and custodial accounts.
However, it's free!
Robinhood Bonus Offers: Get a random share of stock when you refer a friend.
4. TD Ameritrade
TD Ameritrade is another company that's consistently at the top of the pack. We love TD Ameritrade's app, which we named as one of the best free investing apps.
TD Ameritrade distinguishes itself by offering some of the best commission free ETFs available (SPDRs), as well as having one of the best options trading platforms.
TD Ameritrade also recently joined the commission-free bandwagon, offering $0 commissions on stock, option, and ETF trades.
5. Charles Schwab
Schwab has been an honorable mention on our lists before, but this year they made it into the top 5!
What people love about Schwab is their low cost selection of ETFs, and extremely low expense ratio mutual funds. Furthermore, they have no purchase minimums for their mutual funds, so you can build an extremely low cost portfolio at Schwab using popular funds like Schwab Total Stock Market Index (SWTSX).
Schwab also has $0 stock trading commissions like most other companies on this list. They also moved to $0 account minimums for most accounts.
Schwab Bonus Offers: Get up to $500 when you open a new account.
These honorable mentions didn't make the top 5, but they are really worth a look if you want someone else to do the work for you when it comes to investing and setting up your portfolio.
M1 Finance is a new comer to this list but they've been doing some amazing things with low cost investing. In fact, late last year they announced the moved to a free pricing model as well.
What makes M1 Finance so great is that it allows you to setup a low cost portfolio for free. This portfolio can be one of their automated portfolios, or you could setup one of your own with almost any combination of ETFs and stocks. And for stocks, that includes investing in fractional shares as well.
Once you setup your portfolio, M1 helps you automatically rebalance when you deposit more money into your account. And when you sell, it also helps you rebalance by selling overweight items in your portfolio.
The only real drawback to M1 is that it doesn't consider all of your portfolio - you need to do that. Also, it doesn't connect with platforms like Quicken or Personal Capital. You need to use their dashboard to track your portfolio.
M1 Finance Bonus Offer: You can get up to $2,500 if you transfer an account over.
Betterment is a bit different that almost all the rest of these because they are a true robo-advisor. However, for those people that don't want to invest themselves, Betterment is a top notch choice for where to invest.
What makes Betterment great is that it's so easy to get started investing. You simply open an account, answer a few questions, and make a deposit. Betterment takes care of the rest.
The biggest drawback is cost. Their pricing is very transparent - 0.25% for their basic digital plan, and 0.40% for their premium plan. However, the more you have under management with them, the more it will cost you. $50,000 will cost you $125 per year in management fees.
However, for those that don't want to ever think about their portfolio, a small, transparent management fee might be the way to go.
Betterment Bonus Offer: Up to 1 year managed free.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.